Perhaps Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman should be worried the next time he visits Paris... More than three years after the grisly slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Istanbul consulate, a key suspect in the murder has been arrested in France.
He's one of 26 Saudis believed part of the hit team still being sought by Turkish and international authorities for the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi, who was a columnist for the Washington Post. "Khalid Alotaibi, 33, was detained by border police on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Turkey just before taking a flight to Riyadh from Charles de Gaulle Airport, judicial and airport sources said," France24 reports. "His name appeared in a Washington Post investigation on the alleged hit squad, based on passport copies and travel details."
Previously Saudi Arabia itself had tried a number of the accused, with some receiving death sentences - later overturned on appeal - however, many critics blasted the proceedings as a sham trial meant for external public consumption, while separate investigations by the United Nations and CIA pointed to the order to assassinate Khashoggi being issued at the highest levels of the kingdom: namely crown prince MbS himself.
Currently at least eight convicted Saudis are imprisoned in the kingdom. Starting in 2020, a Turkish court tried at least 20 suspects in absentia. Tuesday's arrest marks the first such detention of a murder suspect in the killing abroad.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry was quick to demand the Saudi national's release, however, calling it a case of "mistaken identity". The Saudis issued a statement:
"Regarding the arrest of a Saudi citizen on the grounds of being a suspect in the murder of the late citizen Jamal Khashoggi, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Republic of France would like to clarify that what was reported in the media is incorrect, and that the person who was arrested has nothing to do with the case in quesiton," it said.
"Therefore, the Kingdom's embassy expects his immediate release."
So far the French appear to be confident they have their man, pending continuing investigation, based on a warrant issued by Turkey. The explosive headline could prove deeply awkward for French President Emmanuel Macron, who has essentially "moved on" like many other world leaders, having already literally embraced MbS and welcomed him "back into the fold" of respected world leaders - as Sky News reports:
The arrest came just days after French President Emmanuel Macron held face-to-face talks in Saudi Arabia with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since Mr Khashoggi's murder.
Previously the CIA concluded with "high confidence" that the crown prince and kingdom's de facto ruler ordered the killing.
Image via MEI: Khaled Aedh al-Otaibi, whose 2018 passport is shown here, is a former member of the royal guard who was present in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s murder.
"The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter," The Washington Post based on US intelligence's initial investigation.